• There’s quite a bit to unpack in this piece, especially in view of some of the more insightful and original viewpoints the hosts of this blog have posted. For now I’ll get the ball rolling by picking out this line:

    “If we announce that we will be giving away free food, for example, we can expect people to spend time waiting in line when they could otherwise be helping others and thereby creating wealth. The foregone output from people standing in line and waiting is one of the costs of our benevolence.”

    The federal government does give away billions of dollars of free food to the poor each year. It’s called SNAP, and the line you stand in to get your food is the same grocery checkout line you’d spend the same amount of time standing in if you were buying groceries with your own money. Is the author of the piece that unfamiliar with how food stamps work?

  • Feh. Plenty of debatable assertions about the minimum wage, a non-sequitur jab at “green” policy and a bunch of scapegoating the government.

    In short, precisely the type of callous libertarian stereotype, high on arrogance and short on supporting research, that this blog is trying to change.

  • Logan Buck

    If libertarians want to oppose programs that aim at helping the poor, then they should address their arguments to the best of those programs (for instance EITC). Otherwise we are just attacking straw men, and failing to truly deal with the issue. We might find that some of these programs are actually good. We even need to address programs that don’t exist but might be effective. This approach has convinced me that we cannot rule out such programs a priori. It’s an open, empirical matter. In fact, I advocate that libertarians ought to support efficient redistribution and welfare programs (that is, programs that actually help).

  • Logan’s right; it’s all about how good the institutions are.

    Libertarians like Carden join with everyone else in finding fraud unacceptable. A scammer some years back when I was in college called my 84-year-old grandmother and posed as me, saying that she had to wire money to Canada immediately to bail me out of a prison I wasn’t actually in. She lost $2000, and I’m sure others did too. The perpetrators of this fraud did something worse than conning greedy people with the promise of wealth; they conned people by appealing to their compassion for their loved ones. To them, profit came first.

    The Mumbai beggar gang leaders from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” cited by Carden, who blind a boy in order to better elicit the compassion of passers-by (and thus the size of their take, which is nearly 100%) are, in my mind, piling on the moral wrongs even more, because by their fraud, they place their own profit above both deceiving the benevolent AND harming a child. (I am sure that people like this do exist.)

    I think what makes me uncomfortable with Carden’s thinking, which is so different from what Jason Brennan et.al. have proposed here, is that he feels the problem with the “Slumdog” scenario lies with the deontologically well-meaning but consequentially harmful benevolence of those who enable the crooks to profit. I feel that this benevolence is one of the greatest assets that humans have in building societies, and I equate it with the kindness of my grandmother. What separates her kindness from that of the movie’s Mumbai charity-givers is the barrier of trust. Grandma knew that if I were to need $2000 right away (happily, I’m financially independent now), she could send it to me because she trusts that I’m not lying and that my self-assessment of my monetary needs is accurate.

    The charity-givers have to make a longer leap of faith. They shouldn’t have to. I am sure every one of those concerned souls would rather pay that money in taxes to a hypothetical trustworthy, accountable government authority staffed with personally-committed civil servants who would assess the needs of children who aren’t getting enough help and use the money to hire teachers and pediatricians and family aid workers where needed. Government agencies like that are no pipe dream; they do exist (one reason why public education is so popular in the Western world) but are sadly not the norm everywhere. The problem lies not with the kindness of strangers but with the weakness of the institutions that bind them.

    If we lived in a world where some metaphysical force external to human beings could enforce that bond of trust between total strangers (or between taxpayers and state) as strongly as it exists between loved ones, I think some form of libertarianism would be more ideal than the mixed economy we have now.

  • John

    I think Logan is correct with the last of his post, but not the start. I like what Andrewlevine writes.

    I want to tie this back to the discussion on Social Justice and the question of deserving or undeserving poor. If we’re not concerned with who deserves social support then I don’t think we’re talking about justice but rather mercy and compassion.

    Andewrlevine also points out that the charitable among us necessarily expose themselves to a certain risk: is someone taking advantage, is the charity going to the underserving? What I wonder is if there’s a connection here with the old view that it’s better for 10 guilty to go free rather than 1 innocent be incarcerated. Again the risk of allowing the bad to continue in their harmful ways in the interest of not treating the deserving person with the treatment justice requires.

    To me this suggests that those supporting the presumption of innocence, or the suggested view of social “justice” without consideration for desert must have a higher toleration for the underlying risks implied.

    There is another alternative, one suggested by William Tucker
    (http://spectator.org/archives/2010/01/06/better-a-hundred-terrorists-go/):
    I once wrote a book on crime and after hearing this
    phrase [the 10 for 1 phrase] for about the 20th time,
    I came to one conclusion: Whoever said it wasn’t planning
    on living in the same neighborhood with those 10 or 100
    guilty criminals.

    That may be true, but then Tucker apparently isn’t planning
    on living in the same neighborhood as any of the innocent
    that are falsely imprisoned.

    Do our positions change with regard to how we apply and implement our social programs depending on who we think our neighbors are?

  • I had some trouble with Professor Carden’s piece, for a few reasons.

    The first was his appeal to the Law of Unintended (Negative) Consequences. It’s easy to say that: “If we’re serious about helping the least of these among us, the best thing we can probably do is to get rid of interventions, programs, regulations, and controls that continue to oppress the poor,” but that makes an assumption that is never addressed, let alone supported – that the oppression of the poor is directly attributable to these interventions, programs, regulations, and controls, and that any Unintended Consequences from their removal are automatically less oppressive than the ones we currently deal with. But given that the very interventions, programs, regulations, and controls were put in place due to very really past oppressions, it seems to me that proof that they are avoided in the new regime must be provided.

    The second was his referencing of “Slumdog Millionaire” as an illustration of the practice “in which children are blinded so that they can become more profitable beggars.” It seems to me that if I were going to point to a film in a case like this, a documentary, even an obscure one, would be a better choice than a romantic drama. Not to deny that the practice happens, but it seems strange to use a work of fiction as one’s only supporting evidence.

    I was also unimpressed with this statement near the conclusion: “In short, libertarians offer proposals to infuriate everyone.” To paraphrase Slate’s Stephen Metcalf, the simple fact that what one says infuriates the dogmatist doesn’t make it true.

    In all, Professor Carden’s peice read like an attempt to use Bleeding Heart Libertarians as cover, rather than a genuine shout-out.

  • Hello all. Sorry I didn’t respond quickly. Since Matt’s follow up post on this topic has generated a lot of interesting discussion (and cause I am frightfully busy right now) I will pass on responding.